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Aurora Institute

Educator Micro-Credentials: Better for My Learning and Better for Students

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Jessica Mazo

Issue(s): State Policy, Develop Educator Capacity, Issues in Practice, Support Professional Learning

This blog post is one of a series that highlights different experiences with the multilingual learner (MLL) micro-credential program developed by UCLA’s ExcEL Leadership Academy and highlighted in the Aurora Institute report: ExcEL Leadership Academy Micro-Credential Pathway Adoption in Rhode Island

As I worked through the micro-credential process within the ExcEL program, I felt empowered knowing I was earning my English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) certification and improving my craft. The more of the program I completed, the more I saw myself improving as an educator. I could see my students making more connections and engaging more in my classroom. My lessons were becoming more culturally diverse and meeting the needs of all my students. I could see how the work I was doing with this program and incorporating into my classroom in real time was helping my students feel comfortable learning in my classroom. 

Student work

My students and I both were growing through my learning process. By creating scaffolded strategies under the Second Language Acquisition Essentials micro-credential and writing lesson plans that focused on the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model under multiple micro-credentials, I was able to really to look at the curriculum I was using in my classroom and make that curriculum stronger and more diverse. My teaching strategies became more diverse both in terms of accessibility and cultural representation. As I became more culturally aware, I started looking at the cultural bias within the curriculum through this program and working to address those cultural biases within the curriculum and my own teaching. I became more aware of the examples used with the curriculum including holidays or famous American figures that my students may not know. I started to notice how Americanized the examples I used at times were, like references to hockey or American football analogies or American TV shows. I was also able to add powerful strategies into my classes, like a vocabulary binder and a warm-up that addressed the four language domains students get tested on for the ACCESS testing. The ExcEL program micro-credentials I completed allowed me to improve my teaching, directly benefiting my students. I am a better teacher today because of this program. 

Seeking a Different Way of Professional Learning

When I started the ExcEL program, I had already researched many ESOL certification options and tried another program. I felt overwhelmed by the time these programs demanded and realized that I was juggling too much at once to fully engage in their requirements. However, I needed to be ESOL certified to keep my teaching job in Pawtucket, RI and was feeling pressured to get certified quickly. Not being able to attend in-person classes and meet deadlines became very stressful for me. I ended up getting a job in a different district and dropping out of my first ESOL program.

When I switched districts, I learned about the ExcEL program from a coworker who was participating and I knew I wanted to join. I asked her so many questions about what the commitment level looked like, what deadlines were in place, and how the program ran. When she explained it was self-paced and an online platform that I controlled the deadlines for, I felt like it would fit with my needs and schedule. I am a single mother and full-time teacher, so time is a challenge. I loved that the program allowed me to work on my micro-credentials when it fit my life. I could work on it on weekends, vacations, before bed, and had the freedom to work on multiple micro-credentials at once or take a break from one if needed.

Student work

I loved that I could work on my micro-credentials in this program when I had time. I was able to tap into my own abilities and my background knowledge, as well as use my current teaching experience to complete the program. I loved that this program respected my ability as a teacher and allowed me to create real life activities that work for my classroom. Everything I did through this program was directly improving my classes in real time. It was not busy work; it was real work that was benefiting my classroom right then and there. 

The timeline was in my control and I did not need to feel stressed and overwhelmed by looming due dates. When I needed more time to complete work, I had it. When I had school vacations and could devote more time to work, I would. It was great to not be tied down to producing something on certain days of the week. 

Relevant, Empowering Competency-Based Learning

The competency-based design also allowed me the creativity I thrive on and enjoy as a teacher. All the work I completed directly related to my classroom and something I could use in the moment. The requirements were straightforward and the rubrics clearly stated what ExcEL is looking for in terms of showing competency. The workload is challenging, but manageable. The feedback assessors provided was also to the point and beneficial, so I felt supported and respected throughout my journey in this program. The work directly related to my current teaching position, so I was able to see how what I was learning made me a better teacher in real time. 

As I got more invested in the program, I found myself motivated to earn all 12 micro-credentials quickly. I loved being able to dabble in a few at once as well, I have ADHD and love to multitask to stay motivated. I would get mentally stuck at times, and opening a different micro-credential was a great way for my brain to shift and take a break from the area I was stuck on. I could go back to it at any time and move forward, so I was not getting frustrated that I was stagnant. I felt like I was always moving forward and getting somewhere so that helped me stay motivated. 

In the ExcEL program, I worked with a cohort of teachers in my district each month with a facilitator monthly on Zoom. Collaborating with other educators helped me stay motivated, too. A few worked in the same building as I did, and others were at other schools. I also could check in with my facilitator any time I needed to. But the monthly zoom meetings were a great way to collaborate with others within the program. At these meetings, I could bounce ideas off others in the program. So, when I would get stuck with an idea in one micro-credential, I would shift to another until my monthly meeting. Then, at the monthly meetings I could share out and get support to work through my area of need and get unstuck. I loved working with my cohort, bouncing ideas off each other, having regular check-ins, and feeling proud of myself when I could share my completion of work.

Student work on a book shelf part of a teacher micro-credential project

The more work I did through this program, the more confident I became with micro-credentials and as a teacher. I was sharing my ideas more in the virtual meetings with my cohort and I was offering help and support to other teachers at my school. I was taking all the resources and work I was completing and making my classroom stronger and run smoother. I was sharing out the great resources I was creating with my coworkers and felt like I was not only helping myself, but my school as a whole. As a result of this new-found confidence and knowledge, I became a facilitator for a new group of teachers joining the program. I am able to now share my knowledge and help others on their journey through the micro-credentials. 

Today, I am a stronger teacher. In August 2022, I switched schools again. I left the district that introduced me to this program to teach in an urban school where over 54% of students are multilingual learners. I took this job because I had gained the confidence in myself through the ExcEL program to teach MLLs. I now teach English Language Development classes and support MLLs in the classes I push into to co-teach, as well. I also have stronger relationships with the MLL students in the building and am now confident to continue my education and take Spanish classes. I was able to put all the skills I acquired through this program to good use. I am a better teacher thanks to the ExcEL micro-credential program. I cannot speak highly enough about this program and how it positively influenced my teaching.

The photos in this post were provided by the author. Photo one: Student work from a get-to-know-you playlist activity. Photo two: a Day of the Dead fashion show was part of the mico-crendentual work fidning ways to honor students’ cultures in the school. Photo three: Students created ofrendas as part of the Latin American History Month and Day of the Dead celebrations. 

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Photo of author Jessica MazoJessica Mazo is a high school special education, English Language Development, and history teacher in Providence. She has been teaching since 2008 and has taught in private and public schools all over Rhode Island in those years. She was the first Rhode Island teacher to get certified through the ExcEL program and completed all 12 of the micro-credentials in February 2023.